Just when I was beginning to think that everything in the world had gone digital, I learned that there are pockets of business operations where people are still using paper. In fact, paper accounts for some 40% to 50% of invoices, even in the highly automated U.S.

That’s the reality pointed out by Carlos Marcelin and Sheila Darby of Symbeo, Inc., a 30-year-old pioneer in document management automation based in Portland, Oregon. Yes, companies are still using snail mail to deliver invoices to their customers, they told me, regardless of whether those customers are multinational corporations or small businesses. It’s the mission of the Symbeo team to help those companies automate the accounts payable (AP) process and reduce piles of paperwork.

Cutting Costs and Paper Weight

The Symbeo team has excellent news for small and midsize businesses (SMBs), which can now take advantage of Symbeo’s deep expertise in AP automation. Building on the longtime success of its flagship product designed for the large enterprise, Symbeo recently launched Accounts Payable Automation on SAP Store. Quick to implement and priced right for the market, Accounts Payable Automation essentially takes over the mailroom, then closes the loop between manual and digital invoice processing.

With a dedicated address for receiving your company’s invoices, the secure, virtual mailroom scans and classifies invoices using advanced optical character recognition (OCR) to capture raw data and digitalize the invoices. An automated workflow routes the invoices directly to the downstream payment system through integration with SAP Ariba Buying and Invoicing and SAP Ariba Commerce Automation.

Thanks to machine learning technology, the software is trained over time to handle the nuances and characteristics of specific vendors. Meanwhile, the human element is still part of the process for exceptions, such as deciphering handwriting, fixing data in the wrong field, or properly routing an invoice from an international vendor in an unfamiliar language. That said, the app processes most invoices without intervention, eliminating 80% to 90% of the manual effort typically involved. And a service-level agreement helps offer 99.5% accuracy.

Delivering on a Customer Request – From SAP

What inspired Symbeo to develop a new product outside its target market? “Actually, our relationship with SAP is what spurred us to explore and build a business case,” said Marcelin, Symbeo’s VP of Operations. “The idea came from a request from an SAP customer that was looking for a simpler version for AP automation and became the first to adopt it.” And that’s how Symbeo’s Digital Capture-Standard Edition for SAP Ariba was born alongside the existing Accounts Payable Automation solution.

Darby, Symbeo’s marketing manager, noted that its traditional flagship offering is highly customized, offering “white-glove” service to help large enterprises maximize touchless AP processes. For smaller companies looking for less hands-on attention and a lower price point, the new product is ideal, she said. “It’s not built from the ground up. We’ve baked in our historical knowledge. For example, we might have created a new rule specific to an industry that we share with others.”

Further, there’s technical integration involved, requiring working together with customers’ IT and finance teams. “We take a creative problem-solving approach, often fixing an issue that’s long been vexing them,” she remarked. “We solve the part that procure-to-pay doesn’t: the manual aspect of the process, which can be messy and tricky.”

Paying for Itself

Marcelin added that automating AP has significant benefits beyond the obvious. “Our customers can take advantage of early-payment discounts, for instance, and lower the risk of lost invoices, which can be quite costly. Vendors have visibility into the payment process through SAP Ariba solutions and are generally paid faster. That improves relationships and removes friction from the receipt-to-pay process.”

He observed that the past year has revealed gaps in that process for many companies, as their employees shifted to remote work – leaving mailrooms unstaffed. “They’ve had to shore up weak points and get serious about business recovery plans, and we’ve been able to assist them.”

Do you need to offload the tricky part of AP and get the paper out of your life? Give Accounts Payable Automation a try – and don’t forget that SAP will plant a tree for every transaction on SAP Store.

Rajiv Nema is senior director for SAP Store Partner Solutions.